Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

After chaos at the Odyssey, why we have to share blame for teens' booze culture

Good cheer? Alcohol is a form of escape for many, particularly today's teens
Good cheer? Alcohol is a form of escape for many, particularly today's teens

The last time I went to the cinema at the Odyssey in Belfast I was shocked to see young teenagers half-lying on the the ground outside as I was leaving. Somebody's children, completely blocked – one had just been sick where she was sitting.

This goes on every weekend at loads of venues, not just the Odyssey, obviously. So where's the duty of care? If it's such a regular occurrence that it doesn't even raise an eyebrow among staff, what does that say about the adults in charge?

I know young people will be young people, etc etc. But that argument doesn't really hold water anymore. It's like the argument that's it's okay for kids to have loads of "treats" 'cos sure, we all had sweeties when we were kids and it didn't do us any harm.

Yeah, but when we were kids, we got some sweets. And when we were young, we probably drank beer or cider. Now kids get sugar and junk food as a daily habit and young people are necking hard liquor as if it was lemonade. It's not the same.

Never mind the physical effect in the short and long term. What's going on psychologically in our collective psyche? I realised a few months ago that I was drinking a lot to "get out of my head".

I wanted to escape the pain of thinking and feeling so heartbroken about M's death. I wanted not to be in my head.

So I stopped drinking. I decided I'd rather face the dark tunnel, walk into it and come out the other side. If I didn't, I knew I'd just carry it around with me all the time.

You might say young people only drink because it's fashionable, or to show off, or to give them the courage to mingle with the opposite sex and "have a good time". They're socially awkward without it. They need a wee boost.

So where do they get their idea of what a "normal" social interaction looks like, if they think they have to be somehow not themselves to fit in?

What do we teach young kids if every time they see us celebrating something good, we do it with wine? How many young kids are hearing their parents talking about "wine o'clock" and "thank God it's Friday I can have a glass of wine".

What is so awful that we all need to get away from it, to get out of our heads, to numb the pain? Might it not be a better idea to see what's causing the background distress in the first place and deal with that?

What is it that we don't express? What don't we allow ourselves to voice? What dreams do we hide? What fears do we suppress? What is the big bogeyman hovering on the edge of our thoughts that we are so afraid to look at we'd rather run away into drink or some other sort of temporary respite?

My drug of choice recently is watching hours of TV box sets. Okay, I'm not spewing on the pavement, but I know I'm using someone else's drama to avoid something I find hard in my own life.

We could all do with being told repeatedly that we are okay the way we are. We all have fears and disappointments.

None of us has escaped the inner voice criticising us for not being good enough. Trying to drown that voice with alcohol is no solution. Self-love is much more effective.

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